Today, President Trump announced that he will shrink two national monuments in Utah as a result of the review of dozens of national monuments — including our very own Carrizo Plain — earlier this year. His announcement came from Salt Lake City, UT, where he signed two proclamations that would reduce Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 1.2 million acres and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 900,000 acres. The president would enact these reductions by either eliminating or shrinking the current monuments and proclaiming four new, significantly-smaller national monuments in their place.
While the proclamations did not contain any references to other national monuments that were targeted during Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s review — a review that brought in over 2.8 million comments from the public who were overwhelmingly in support of national monument protections — these large modifications represent an attack on all national monuments. The Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County may be safe for now, but the president’s actions today leave it and other national monuments vulnerable to modification in the future.
Presidents have had the power to designate national monuments since the Antiquities Act was passed by Congress in 1906 and signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. The Antiquities Act was designed to protect cultural and natural resources, with particular emphasis on Native American sites. Both national monuments targeted today protect areas that hold spiritual and cultural significance to several Native American tribes in the region. President Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996 and President Obama designated Bears Ears in 2016. Both national monument proposals went through extensive vetting before the former presidents enacted their proclamations. Like all other national monuments, a management plan was developed for Grand Staircase National Monument after years of public input from local stakeholders. The same process was just beginning for the newly-designated Bears National Monument. The 85% reduction of Bears Ears National Monument continues the current administration’s dismantling of work completed under President Obama’s tenure.
“An attack on one national monument is an attack on all,” said Rebecca August, Public Lands Advocate and Los Padres ForestWatch. “The president’s actions today make all public lands vulnerable to political whim.”
The loss of national monument protection for millions of acres of public land mean these areas will now be opened up to drilling, mining, and other activities that would preclude almost any other use of the land. In his speech today, the president also said that his proclamations will open up these lands to hunting, grazing, and vehicle access. However, both national monuments already allowed all of those activities.
This is an extreme abuse of the Antiquities Act by a sitting president and by far the largest modification to a national monument designated by a previous president ever attempted. Several organizations have already vowed to take the administration to court over the issue. We will continue to advocate for the full protection of all existing national monuments and continued use of the Antiquities Act to protect other national treasures.